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Erickson v. Berryhill

United States District Court, W.D. Washington

February 7, 2018

LAURIE JEAN ERICKSON, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of the Social Security Administration, Defendant.

          ORDER ON PLAINTIFF'S COMPLAINT

          J. Richard Creatura United States Magistrate Judge

         This Court has jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c), Fed.R.Civ.P. 73 and Local Magistrate Judge Rule MJR 13 (see also Consent to Proceed Before a United States Magistrate Judge, Dkt. 2). This matter has been fully briefed. See Dkt. 9, 10, 11.

         Treating physician Dr. Triet M. Nguyen, D.O diagnosed plaintiff with major depression and post-traumatic stress disorder (“PTSD”). See AR. 425-26. Plaintiff's depression and PTSD appear to stem from a history of severe abuse. See AR. 370. The Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) gave little to no weight to Dr. Nguyen's opinion that plaintiff has an extreme impairment in restriction of her daily activities and maintaining social functioning, plaintiff's condition resulted in defects of concentration, persistence, or pace, and that plaintiff is not capable of performing past relevant work on a regular, continuous basis. AR. 33, 426-27.

         However, the ALJ erred in finding that Dr. Nguyen's opinion was not consistent with his findings, the overall treatment record, and plaintiff's activities of daily living. Moreover, the ALJ's finding that Dr. Nguyen's report is based largely on plaintiff's self-reports is not supported by substantial evidence. This error is not harmless, because a reasonable ALJ, when fully crediting Dr. Nguyen's opinion, may have included additional limitations in the RFC, and could have reached a different disability determination.

         Therefore, this matter is reversed and remanded pursuant to sentence four of 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) for further administrative proceedings consistent with this opinion.

         BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff, LAURIE JEAN ERICKSON, was born in 1962 and was 50 years old on the alleged date of disability onset of June 4, 2012. See AR. 217-23, 224-29. Plaintiff has her GED, took a secretarial word processing class and has had on-the-job training. AR. 47. Plaintiff has office work experience. AR. 264-75.

         According to the ALJ, plaintiff has at least the severe impairments of “cervical spondylosis without myelopathy; osteoarthritis; carpal tunnel syndrome; myalgia vs polyarthralgia vs. fibromyalgia; ulnar nerve lesion; affective related disorder (major depressive disorder vs. bipolar disorder); anxiety related disorder (post-traumatic stress disorder; anxiety disorder; generalized anxiety disorder; panic disorder); personality disorder; attention deficit disorder; and substance abuse disorder (20 CFR 404.1520(c) and 416.920(c)).” AR. 23.

         At the time of the hearing, plaintiff was living in a modular home with a friend. AR. 56.

         PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         Plaintiff's applications for disability insurance benefits (“DIB”) pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 423 (Title II) and Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”) benefits pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1382(a) (Title XVI) of the Social Security Act were denied initially and following reconsideration. See AR. 82-94, 95-107, 110-25, 126-41. Plaintiff's requested hearing was held before ALJ Larry Kennedy on July 23, 2015. See AR. 37-79. On February 24, 2016, the ALJ issued a written decision in which the ALJ concluded that plaintiff was not disabled pursuant to the Social Security Act. See AR. 17-36.

         Plaintiff raises the following issues: (1) Did the ALJ appropriately weigh the opinion of the State agency consulting psychologist; (2) Did the hypothetical question to the vocational expert contain all of plaintiff's limitations supported by the record; (3) Did the ALJ provide valid reasons for giving little weight to the opinion from Richard Washburn, Ph.D.; (4) Did the ALJ provide valid reasons for giving little weight to the opinion from William Wilkinson, Ed.D.; and (5) Did the ALJ provide valid reasons for giving little weight to the opinion form treating physician Triet Nguyen, M.D. See Dkt. 9 at 1-3.

         STANDARD OF REVIEW

         Pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), this Court may set aside the Commissioner's denial of social security benefits if the ALJ's findings are based on legal error or not supported by substantial evidence in the record as a whole. Bayliss v. Barnhart, 427 F.3d 1211, 1214 n.1 (9th Cir. 2005) (citing Tidwell v. Apfel, 161 F.3d 599, 601 (9th Cir. 1999)).

         DISCUSSION

         1. Did the ALJ provide valid reasons for giving little weight to three medical source opinions?

         Plaintiff alleges the ALJ erred in rejecting the opinions of her treating physician, Dr. Triet Nguyen, D.O. Dkt. 9 at 13-16. Defendant contends that the ALJ provided valid reasons for giving little ...


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